There is evidence that the Astros had the chance to trade for Marlins' slugger Giancarlo Stanton this past offseason. The information was in the Astros' own database for statistics, video, and transaction discussions with other teams, and the Astros have admitted the leak and/or hacking of the database was legitimate, at least up to a point, so the conversation about Stanton may be as well.
The Marlins say they didn't offer Stanton up, which also could be legitimate given some parsing of the language:
Jennings' claim is verified when you check the Astros' database, which says, "JL [Jeff Luhnow] talked to DJ [Dan Jennings] and said we had interest in Stanton. DJ said he doesn't think he'll trade Stanton and the only deal he could think of from us that would work would be Springer and Correa. JL said that would not work. JL posited a deal around Cosart and Deshields." The Marlins didn't officially offer Stanton: they said they didn't think they would trade him, but if they were going to, it would require both George Springer and Carlos Correa. The Astros didn't want to make a deal involving those two, so from the Marlins' point of view, there were never any real discussions, the Astros never having made the conversation-starting offer. If it happened, it was all blue-sky speculation.
That brings us to the real question: Should the Astros have agreed to move Correa and Springer for Stanton, as the Marlins suggested would get a conversation going? You can construct a viable argument in either direction, but it's hard to say no to Giancarlo.
Stanton is 24 years old, and has already hit 138 career homers despite playing in offense-limiting home parks. He's not a free agent until 2017, at which time he'll only be heading into his age-27 campaign, meaning he's still young enough that a long-term extension will net his team additional peak years as well as what will likely be the lengthier, slow-burning peak of a superstar. He'll be expensive when that time comes, but he's also already been worth five wins above replacement this year according to Baseball-Reference, and as with Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and the rest of the young phenoms, there's likely more where that came from.
Stanton is the proverbial franchise-changing player, and for all of the Astros' prospects, they don't have any future Stantons. George Springer is having a lovely little rookie season, with 16 homers in his first 65 games. He's also two months older than Stanton and is leading the AL in strikeouts thanks to punching out exactly one-third of the time. Springer has a .321 batting average on balls in play and still has only managed to bat .245 because of the whiffs. While he could certainly keep his BABIP lofty, as many talented players have managed in the past, the list of players who have succeeded while striking out that often is a short one. We also haven't gotten to the stage of Springer's career where the opposition adjusts just yet, so things could conceivably get worse from here.
To be fair to Springer, we also haven't found out if he can adjust back -- baseball is a constant back-and-forth like this -- but we're well past that stage with Stanton, who in previous years has dealt with injuries and a historically bad lineup, and yet still managed to be as productive as Springer has been.
Carlos Correa is the more impressive prospect of the two prospects mentioned. He's all of 19 years old, plays shortstop, and was crushing High-A before a fractured fibula ended his 2014 last month. He's what makes the possibility of arguing against a Stanton deal sane, as Correa will still be a kid when he's big-league ready, yet he's already a consensus top-10 prospect. Even then, though, he's unproven at the major-league level, and Stanton is Stanton. The Astros shouldn't necessarily need to worry about how much more expensive Stanton is than Correa and Springer, as they play in one of the game's bigger markets -- the 10th-largest, according to Nielsen -- and even had a team payroll over $100 million back in 2009, before the incessant cuts and rebuilding process began. Their long-term television situation is still unresolved, but that won't be the case forever.
If the concern is that they need to rebuild slowly and on the cheap while getting their fans reaccustomed to competition, you could counter that bringing in someone as talented, exciting, and known as Stanton would help rejuvenate the fanbase faster. He's a known megastar, an established quantity, and would be the most talented 24-year-old in an Astros uniform since the Killer Bs roamed the Astrodome. Correa and Springer were and are high-quality prospects, especially Correa, but Stanton could have helped speed up not only the rebuilding process but the legitimization of what the Astros are doing, both to their fans and to the players they hope to acquire in the future.
Astros GM Jeff Luhnow addresses database leaks
The Astros GM says the organization and Major League Baseball are still investigating just who hacked into the team's proprietary database.
Sticking with Correa and Springer isn't necessarily the wrong thing to do, though, especially since it fits in with general manager Jeff Luhnow's stockpiling quality players: The Astros have gone for quantity over quality in recent drafts in order to fill out the once-barren farm system, and their offseasons more than imply they were hoping to pull that trick off with early draft picks for a few years. They might have also felt that there was little chance of extending Stanton, meaning he could be gone before the rebuilding process is completed: Stanton hasn't signed on with the Marlins long-term in part because he's waiting to see them attempt to compete in a convincing way, so there's a chance he wouldn't have been willing to talk to Houston given they were coming off of their third straight 100-loss season.
Finally, these talks were in such an early stage in negotiations that you'd be in the right if you took the Dan Jennings route and denied they happened at all: Correa and Springer could have ended up being a starting point only, with the Astros having to empty out the farm for a player who, by himself, was not going to bring the Astros back to relevance.
The Astros are banking on the kids to bring them there instead, and if they continue to develop and extend them long-term, leaving room for higher-priced adds from either trades or free agency, then they can justify their decision to avoid getting deep in Stanton talks by citing their faith in their farm. We won't know for a few years if that's how things will go, so it's a clear risk the Astros are taking by going this route, but success with the plan in place is about the only way you'll make people forget that the Marlins gave the Astros -- and no one else that we know of -- an in to acquire one of the game's best.